US aims to counter China by opening Solomon Islands embassy

  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken watches a cultural farewell ceremony Saturday in Nadi, Fiji. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool Photo via AP)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The U.S. says it will open an embassy in the Solomon Islands, laying out in unusually blunt terms a plan to increase its influence in the South Pacific nation before China becomes “strongly embedded.”

The reasoning was explained in a State Department notification to Congress that was obtained by The Associated Press.

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The plan was confirmed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a Saturday visit to Fiji, part on a Pacific tour that began in Australia.

Blinken later landed in Hawaii, where he hosted the foreign ministers from Japan and South Korea to discuss the threat posed by North Korea, amid rising concerns over its recent missile tests.

The State Department said Solomon Islanders cherished their history with Americans on the battlefields of World War II, but that the U.S. was in danger of losing its preferential ties as China “aggressively seeks to engage” elite politicians and business people in the Solomon Islands.

The move comes after rioting rocked the nation of 700,000 in November. The riots grew from a peaceful protest and highlighted long-simmering regional rivalries, economic problems and concerns about the country’s increasing links with China, after it switched allegiance from the self-ruled island of Taiwan to Beijing three years ago. Rioters set fire to buildings and looted stores.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare survived a no-confidence vote the following month, telling lawmakers in a fiery 90-minute speech that he’d done nothing wrong and would not bow down to “the forces of evil” or to “Taiwan’s agents.”

The U.S. previously operated an embassy in the Solomons for five years before closing it in 1993.

The embassy announcement fits with a new Biden administration strategy for the Indo-Pacific that was announced Friday and emphasizes building partnerships with allies as a way to counter China’s growing influence.

In its notification to Congress, the State Department said China had been “utilizing a familiar pattern of extravagant promises, prospective costly infrastructure loans, and potentially dangerous debt levels,” when engaging with political and business leaders from the Solomon Islands.

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